This is one of those events that make me wish Dr. Scott really had created a time machine out of a Delorean car. (sigh) Oh, to travel back to the Astrodome in '73 and see this event for myself.
On Sept 20th, 1973 Billie Jean King defeated Bobby Riggs in a tennis match that came to be known as the quintessential battle of the sexes. I don't know enough about tennis to understand the (what seems to me) rather complicated scoring, but it was a "best three out of five" situation. Billie Jean King slaughtered the guy in the first three sets and it was all over.
The New York Times article from that day is HERE.
I get all proud and teary-eyed just reading about it. I can't imagine how amazing this must have been for women who actually got to watch it on TV or in person. I would have been terrified that she might lose and still excited about what it would mean if she won. Can you imagine what it must have felt like on Sept 21, 1973? Did Billie Jean's accomplishment make other women feel proud that morning and hopeful about our futures? It was such a media circus at the time. Did people understand how important this was, or did it just seem like another publicity stunt?
By 1973 women had been able to make some progress within the feminist movement, but it was all still so new. The Title IX law had just been passed in 1972. Title IX was the law that prohibited sex discrimination in sports for any federally funded programs, mostly public schools. This is the law that allowed girls to get a chance to play basketball, soccer, be on the swim team etc. Other laws had been passed that prohibited sex discrimination in job hiring, sex discrimination while on the job and also against women with pre-school age children. We had accomplished a lot, but there was still so much to do. Hey, we're still working on that whole "equal pay for equal work" thing.
And so was Bille Jean. She started the Women's Tennis Association and the first thing on her list was the gap between what male athletes earned in prize money and what women earned. Here's what Larry Schwartz wrote about it for ESPN.
from Billie Jean
Won For All Women
"In those days, women players received much less money than men earned.
King's voice was heard loudest in the quest for equality. When a new women's
tour was started, with Philip Morris sponsoring a new brand of cigarette, King
was perceived as a "radical" heading a breakaway group. The Virginia Slims Tour
was marketed with the slogan "You've Come a Long Way, Baby."
She convinced her colleagues to form a players' union, and the Women's
Tennis Association was born. King was its first president in 1973. King, who
received $15,000 less than Ilie Nastase did for winning the U.S. Open in 1972,
said if the prize money wasn't equal by the next year, she wouldn't play, and
she didn't think the other women would either. In 1973, the U.S. Open became the
first major tournament to offer equal prize money for men and women."
Even though I was never a big athlete myself, I still get excited about the implications of Title IX and Billie Jean King's winning tennis match. These things happened before I was even born and they made the world a little better for me and my girl friends. It meant that a girl could pursue her talents even if those talents have more to do with hitting a ball than sewing (not that there's anything wrong with sewing!). It meant that a girl could have more choices and experiences in her life than what was traditionally offered. If we could get girls on the basketball team, what else might we accomplish?
So, when Billie Jean King beat the crap out of that loud mouth, blustering, nasty little man, I imagine it felt pretty good. I imagine a lot of women jumped up off their couches and cheered. And for a moment, they got to feel like there was a place for them in this sometimes hostile, usually male-dominated little world. How cool is that?